Saturday, March 2, 2019

I've Been Meaning to Talk to You About Procrastination


In the past three weeks, I have written one book, begun work on another, and cranked out three short stories, not to mention all those stanzas of poetry. It is some of the most brilliant writing I’ve ever done.

It’s all been in my head.

I have composed sentences, strung together into paragraphs, running the full length to pages, but they are all invisible, all silent words tumbling like avalanche snowflakes in my snow-globe skull. As I shower, as I drive the icy streets of Butte, as I half-listen to conference calls at work, I am all the time writing. My head is florid with language.

This is merely half-writing, the first stage of art. I don’t, as they say, bring it to closure. The sentences too-rarely make their way to page or screen. This is the worst of procrastination: the mental doesn’t have the mettle to become material.

But lately, I’ve been wondering something. It’s a cute little newborn thought, not yet strong enough to leave the nest, but I gave it a good ponder and then jotted a few thoughts in my journal (hey, actual writing!):
       If I think of a sentence, compose a really good one in my head, but never write it down, is it still art? If so, is that art appreciated by an audience of one (me), or does it continue to toll, like the lingering hum of a struck bell, somewhere else? Is there someplace invisible to us—call it heaven, call it death—where all the words we’ve ever thought live as unrecorded art? I like to think of my scraps of writing flying through the air of heaven, bright as butterflies, swift as swallows.
       By this point in our earth’s age, it should be painfully obvious to us that all of our so-called art—the paintings, the books, even the music which has a physical presence in the air—all of it is temporal and already in a state of decomposition even as it’s being created. Nothing on earth will survive forever, so what does the act of physically creating an already-rotting piece of art say about us? Is art just a self-congratulatory statue to ourselves and we just fail to notice the rust flecks appearing at the base? Since all art begins invisibly, within the artist, maybe that’s all that’s needed; maybe it’s okay for some art to remain invisible, silent, abstract. I mean, if art falls to the forest floor and no one is around to hear it, is it still art?
       But maybe, just maybe, our art-thoughts live forever in the Other Place; maybe, just maybe, thinking a good artful sentence is as valid as writing it down. Maybe, just maybe, the skies of heaven are full of word-birds and we’re able to see and feel and hear Art all the rest of our days in that eternal aviary.
       This is not an argument for me not writing, but you have to admit that it gives a glimmer of hope for us procrastinators and do-nothingers.

And then, not five minutes after I typed those words, I picked up my current poetry book (New Poets of England and America), and read this poem by the never-heard-of-before poet Wesley Trimpi (“To Giotto”):
                 And must
The paint which holds your thought,
Dissolving flake by flake
To dust, now join your dust
In final dissolution?
You hoped too much to make
These figures always stay
Ageless and calm, for now
Even your blues and greens
Cause meaning to decay,
And none can comprehend
What dissolution means.


I have been listening to Dani Shapiro’s memoir Devotion (read by the author) on audiobook. I’ve been enriched by her thoughtful, artful account of her spiritual quest. It has touched me as a father, a husband, a once-devout Christian, and as a writer. I promise you this: pick up any book by Dani Shapiro and you will be rewarded with sentences, paragraphs, and pages that pop like fireworks in both the head and the soul.

Today, Dani read more of her book to me and spoke these words straight to my heart, my terrible awful procrastinating heart that always does its best to clog that spot between my head and body:
       Writers often say that the hardest part of writing isn’t the writing itself; it’s the sitting down to write. The same is true of yoga, meditation, and prayer. The sitting down, the making space. The doing. It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Unroll the mat. Sit cross-legged on the floor. Just do it. Close your eyes and express a silent need, a wish, a moment of gratitude. What’s so hard about that? Except—it is hard. The usual distractions—the clutter and piles of life—are suddenly, unusually enticing. The worst of it, I’ve come to realize, is that the thing that stops me—the shadow that casts a cold darkness across the best of my intentions—isn’t the puppy, the e-mail, the UPS truck, the school conference, the phone, the laundry, the to-do lists. It’s me that stops me. Things get stuck, the osteopath once said with a shrug. He gestured to the area where the neck meets the head. The place where the body ends and the mind begins. Things get stuck. It sounded so simple when he said it. It’s me, and the things that are stuck. Standing in my way.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get out of my own way...


  1. good grief; I just read all of Dani Shapiro's books and come away with shit I will never produce such meaningful writing, where every sentence sings and every paragraph inspires. So.....I don't think I'll write today (procrastination) and it's all going to be dust anyway.....

  2. But writers Must write so that the rest of us will have something to read whilst putting off doing our chores!

  3. This struck chords on my dusty paint brushes that also have to take a back seat from time to time because of "me". The curse of a creative soul is that we can't be fully content unless that artful self is actually creating in real time. I have tried to make peace with the hundreds of unpainted master pieces in my mind by letting them become passing memories. My hope is that at just the right time all that creative energy will have to express itself. But then..... I say, oh well. ART is for the pleasure of creating and when it happens that is great. At least an artful mind can never be emptied. Don't be too hard on yourself.... it's a familiar fate of many. Painterly, Cheryl